22 August 2005
The Department of Health and pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis signed a public-private agreement for the management and control of tuberculosis (TB) in Johannesburg on Friday.
It is the first such agreement in the country, and formalises the public-private partnership that already exists between Sanofi-Aventis, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Department of Health.
The agreement took place through Sanofi-Aventis’s social responsibility project TBFREE, a collaborative programme funded by Sanofi-Aventis – the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical company – and supported by the Mandela Foundation.
The signing took place at the Sizwe TBFREE Centre in Edenvale, one of four provincial centres already established by TBFREE for training community health workers in Directly Observed Therapy Short-Course (DOTS) support, an internationally recommended strategy for TB control.
Besides encouraging people to be screened for TB, DOTS supporters provide advice and support to TB patients and, crucially, ensure that they complete their course of medication.
This intervention is vital, as many TB sufferers do not complete their course of medication once they start feeling better, leading to the development of multi-drug resistant TB that is extremely difficult to treat.
3 500 workers have already been trained in the first four provinces, and more will be trained as each of the country’s nine provinces are equipped with similar centres under the partnership.
TB, once on the decline, has resurfaced as a major threat globally, not only because it is often associated with HIV-Aids co-infection, but also because resources for fighting the disease have been compromised.
According to the World Health Organization, some 15 to 20 million people around the world are suffering from TB, which kills about two million people a year. Only five to six million sufferers receive effective treatment.
An estimated 500 000 South Africans are infected with tuberculosis.
Speaking at the signing of the agreement, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said the spread of TB in South Africa had reached “unacceptable proportions, considering that this is a preventable and curable disease.”
Tshabalala-Msimang also noted that TB predominantly affects poor and vulnerable people.
“We have to ensure that our TB control interventions are complemented by a strong nutrition programme in order to improve [the] effectiveness of these interventions,” she said.
“When a patient has nothing to eat, it is difficult for him or her to take a larger number of tablets for up to six months, as required in standard TB treatment”.
The minister said the main problem the department faced in controlling TB was lack of information. “People do not know enough about this disease. We need to inform our people that TB can be cured even in the presence of HIV and Aids.
“People need to know that effective treatment [for TB] is available free of charge in our facilities.”
Robert Sebbag, vice-president of access to medicines at Sanofi-Aventis, flew in from France for the signing of the agreement.
“Our role is a collaborative and supportive one, and we will strive to see that all efforts by both parties are synchronised and geared toward the same admirable goal – a TB-free South Africa,” Sebbag said.